Teacher creates zero waste classroom at FHS

Loren Savage, Writer

At the end of last year, Jordan Strayhorn, FHS Food Safety and Nutrition teacher decided to make her classroom zero waste. “I am a very environmentally minded person just from the get-go, and so in the past few years it just seemed like students were not understanding, like, that’s recyclable,” says Strayhorn. Motivation to make these changes in her classroom came from frustration with the amount of waste created during class.

Students now cut down on plastic and food waste by reusing plastic food containers for leftover food they have made in class. Located in her classroom is a zero-waste cart. On the cart, there are places to put plastic used for eco-bricking, a basket for dirty rags that are used for cleaning countertops and dishes, and places for food scraps to either be composted or turned into stock.

Some of her students bring back clean plastic containers that aren’t able to be recycled by the city. She is encouraging students to reuse and recycle at home. “Really the chasing arrows, the recycle sign, is in the reduce, reuse, recycle order for a reason. First, we need to reduce our use,” said Strayhorn.

There is one tiny trash can in the classroom- because some things must be thrown away- but other than that, trash cans have been hidden to discourage throwing things away unnecessarily.

One of the major changes implemented in Strayhorn’s is the making of eco-bricks. Eco-bricks are single-use plastic bottles that have been tightly packed with other smaller bits of single-use plastic. These bricks can be used to build anything from furniture to walls. Strayhorn says that “it was a solution for what to do with all of the plastic … I realized there is pretty much a place to put everything we would throw away.” There is an eco-bricking assembly line in the room. Plastic bottles and pieces are placed in a bin on the zero waste cart. The plastic is then washed and thoroughly dried on a hanging line outside, so no bacteria grows inside the bricks. After it is brought in, it is sorted by hard or soft plastic. The hard plastic is then cut up and the pieces are stuffed into larger plastic bottles.

Another thing her classes have been doing is creating plarn, or plastic yarn, from plastic grocery bags, which can be used to crochet. Strayhorn was inspired by a vendor at the Rogers farmers market who creates reusable bags out of plarn. Strayhorn uses Walmart Pickup to get groceries for her classes and then uses the plastic bags to create plarn by cutting the bags into strips and tying them together. She is teaching some of her students how to crochet and so far they have made small pots for plants using the plarn

“Redeveloping habits is the challenge, but I think everybody understands that it’s worth it. It’s good for the environment to keep the plastic out of the landfills,” says Strayhorn. She is sometimes met with confusion when she asks a student to clean a piece of plastic for eco-bricking or for leftover containers.

She has hope that changes implemented in class will impact decisions students make at home. One day her students made plarn, so the class read One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul. It is the story of a woman, Isatou Ceesay, in Gambia who noticed how plastic pollution was negatively affecting her village. Ceesay began washing the plastic and crocheting with it to create clutch purses. Strayhorn’s goal in reading this story was to let her students know that one person can make a difference. “One person’s difference can have ripple effects,” says Strayhorn.

In the spring, Strayhorn’s classes will have a unit about gardening, where she plans to use dirt created by their composting in class to create the gardens. Strayhorn also plans to build a table and chairs for the classroom using the eco-bricks created from plastic waste in class.

In terms of minimizing waste, this is a huge step for our school. If more teachers can make changes in their classrooms like Strayhorn has, it will lead to a greener, cleaner environment for everyone. It will take a lot of commitment and strong leadership, but we are living in a climate crisis and we must do whatever we can to ensure that we will continue to have an earth to call home.